Solutions to the Plight of Unam Medical Students

I UNDERSTAND that there is a problem regarding the registration of fifth year medical students, who completed their course in November 2014 as medical interns. I submit that these constraints that have no moral, ethical or legal basis to stand on, are externally imposed and are not of students’ making.

Section 18(1) of Medical and Dental Act (Act No. 10 of 2004) empowers the minister, on the recommendation of the Medical and Dental Council of Namibia, to prescribe the minimum requirement for registration as a medical practitioner. Section 16 provides that no person or institution may offer tuition, education and training unless such curriculum is approved by the Medical and Dental Council (MDC). In compliance with these statutory provisions, which are instructive, the minister, by regulation (No. 2415 of 28 September 2000), has initially prescribed the medical programme to be of six years duration of which five years were earmarked for studies and one year for internship. The duration of an internship was subsequently changed to two years in Regulation No. 3783 of 5 February 2007. Full stop!

Despite these clear, bold and unambiguous provisions of the regulations, there is still a circular and unending debate between UNAM and Medical and Dental Council of Namibia regarding the duration of the programme at the expense of continued and unabated suffering of students.

I am perturbed and puzzled by the information that our respected statutory-created structure notably MDC, unilaterally, arbitrarily and capriciously intends to change the duration of a programme that is already prescribed and simultaneously pressuring UNAM to disregard the general principle of presumption of retrospectivity, which presupposes that the envisaged change must only affect future matters. I am perturbed because the Medical and Dental Council is enforcing a change that is not prescribed – an exercise that amounts to acting outside the powers bestowed (ultra vires).

UNAM Senate has a statutory right to extend the minimally prescribed curriculum, examinations, lectures, and superintendence provided it does it on its own volition, after having applied due diligence and having considered students’ existing rights, legitimate expectation, substantive rights, procedural fairness instead of succumbing to flattery and pressures of reactionary and retrogressive forces whose agenda is an open secret.

Student internship vs medical internship

It must be pointed out that confusion in student minds is deliberately being created so that they accept that there is a difference between “medical intern” and “student intern” and, therefore, as a matter of fact they are supposed to do a six-year programme, as initially envisaged in the regulation. This is far-fetched and the fact of the matter is that medical internship in the Medical and Dental Act of 2004 has superseded student internship that was provided for under Regulation No. 2415 of 28 September 2000 that emanated from Medical and Dental Professions Act of 1993, hence two years instead of one year. This argument is being aanced to justify that the medical programme is six years, which is not the case. It is five years if due regard is given to the fact that medical internship of two years is already provided for under the current dispensation, otherwise, internship will be three years if student internship is allowed to survive.

Given the above analysis, I am of the opinion that the starting point to resolve the current impasse is for the Medical and Dental Council of Namibia and UNAM to go back to the drawing board and accept the inevitable and irrefutable fact that the medical degree in Namibia is a statutorily-sanctioned five-year programme as well as to recognise that regulation 3 in Regulation No. 3783 of 5 February 2007 stipulates that medical internship is of a two-year duration. The MDC and UNAM have to show fairness and reasonableness. They should be aised in no uncertain terms to protect students’ legitimate expectation and be on the agenda of their reflection, taking into account that they have promised a five-year programme with a two-year internship.

They must be aised that whatever merits they have in substantiation of a six-year programme, procedural fairness is a prerequisite and not arbitrariness.

*Dr Rihupisa Kandando, PhD, is an academician writing in his own personal capacity

Source : New Era